Flamingo fash­ion has made a come­back

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By Matthew Boyle

Fash­ion is fickle. What’s in is soon out and, then, mirac­u­lously, back in again. There’s no bet­ter proof of that than the flamingo: Once a tacky lawn or­na­ment, it’s been res­ur­rected as the de­sign el­e­ment of the mo­ment.

In just over two years, flamin­gos have soared from the cat­walks of Mi­lan to the wardrobes and walls of ur­ban hip­sters to the aisles of Nord­strom, IKEA, Crate & Bar­rel, Tar­get and Bri­tain’s John Lewis depart­ment stores. Flamin­gos now adorn ev­ery­thing from $1,495 Givenchy dresses to $40 shower cur­tains. Google search in­ter­est for “flamingo” hit an all-time high in May.

“Flamin­gos are the kale of style right now,” says Vicki Psarias, founder of the Bri­tish life­style blog “Hon­est Mum.”

The flamingo’s jour­ney from kitsch to cool il­lus­trates how con­sumer trends emerge. Flamin­gos nes­tled in the happy mid­dle of a Venn di­a­gram of three hot trends: they’re pink, they’re tropical and they hap­pen to be birds. Once there, they quickly grew, with help from a steady diet of celebrity In­sta­gram posts, Pinterest pages and style blogs.

“The abil­ity of so­cial net­works to launch, broad­cast and in­stantly re­in­force the cred­i­bil­ity of a trend has ac­cel­er­ated the old process of trend de­vel­op­ment by an al­most in­cal­cu­la­ble fac­tor,” says Ryan Mathews, a con­sul­tant and fu­tur­ist. “The path is the same, but the ride is a whole lot faster and bumpier.”

The flamingo’s ride be­gan way back in 1957, when a young graphic artist with the fit­ting name of Don­ald Feather­stone cre­ated a plas­tic pink flamingo for Union Prod­ucts, which Sears of­fered in its cat­a­log for $2.76 a pair. Sub­ur­ban­ites snatched them up as lawn or­na­ments, and they soon be­came “widely re­viled as the dregs of bad taste,” as a New York Times story put it when Union Prod­ucts closed in 2006.

The no­to­ri­ety caught the at­ten­tion of avant-garde direc­tor John Wa­ters, whose 1972 break­out film “Pink Flamin­gos” boasted the tag line “An ex­er­cise in poor taste.” Flamin­gos were briefly a mas­cot of gay cul­ture but largely pe­tered out, with few mourn­ing when Union Prod­ucts closed its plas­tics fac­tory.

Then, in June 2014, a re­birththanks to Amer­i­can fash­ion de­signer Marc Ja­cobs, who put flamin­gos all over a Spring 2015 col­lec­tion that in­cluded a black satin em­broi­dered flamingo bomber jacket. Other la­bels, such as Bot­tega Veneta and Gucci, fol­lowed suit, and when Prada un­veiled a flamingo-themed fra­grance in 2015, a spark was ig­nited.

Fash­ion­istas flocked to the bird — “flamingo” de­rives from the Span­ish word for “flame-col­ored.” Celebrities then ap­plied rocket fuel: At Tay­lor Swift’s 2015 Fourth of July party, the pop star and her In­sta­gram-friendly pals, like model Gigi Ha­did, frol­icked on in­flat­able flamin­gos.

Re­tail­ers, des­per­ate for a sure thing amid lack­lus­ter sales, jumped on the trend that same year. Tar­get de­cided to fea­ture flamin­gos in its new Pil­low­fort brand — sheets, tow­els and other ac­ces­sories for kids’ bed­rooms. The items did so well that the re­tailer quickly loaded up the bar­gain bins at the front of the store with flamingo nap­kins, string-up lights and wa­ter carafes. Tar­get now of­fers more than 100 flamingo prod­ucts.

“We didn’t know how big it could be,” says Julie Gugge­mos, Tar­get’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for prod­uct de­sign and de­vel­op­ment. “Then, as the trend ac­cel­er­ated, we wanted to re­act faster.”

Over in Bri­tain, John Lewis stocked some flamingo pool in­flat­a­bles in April 2016 and was over­whelmed, sell­ing out in eight weeks, ac­cord­ing to buyer Lisa Ruther­ford.

In­spired, John Lewis went full flamingo this year: gift wrap, beach tow­els, lights, wall­pa­per, novelty glasses, note­books, pen­cil cases, nap­kins, aprons and ties. And, of course, plas­tic gar­den or­na­ments (now two for $26). Flamingo prod­uct sales in Ruther­ford’s depart­ment have more than dou­bled, and in­flat­able sales are up 700 per­cent. The only prod­uct launch that’s done as well in re­cent mem­ory is Star Wars mer­chan­dise.

“The amount of prod­ucts it lends it­self to is sur­pris­ing,” Ruther­ford says.

And it’s not just cheap trin­kets: Nord­strom of­fers flamingo silk scarves for $170, while Kate Spade does a large tote bag for $379. Crate & Bar­rel’s funky CB2 off­shoot fea­tures flamin­gos in its new col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bri­tish de­signer Matthew Wil­liamson. And good luck find­ing that Givenchy flamingo dress — it’s sold out at Nord­strom.

But as Mathews, the fu­tur­ist, notes: “Trends can be dis­man­tled at the same speed they are cre­ated.” Tar­get’s Gugge­mos says they’ve peaked.

She senses they are al­ready be­ing re­placed by the hum­ble cac­tus, now trending on the web. Cac­tus box­ers, any­one?

Luke Shar­rett, Bloomberg News

Jan and Scott Baty wear flamingo-themed Derby hats on the morn­ing of the 140th run­ning of the Ken­tucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Flamin­gos are on-trend — for the mo­ment.

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